Rethinking PIM

2022-11-06 17:00

I was writing some thoughts over in obsidian about my move from org mode and decided it probably warranted a post of it's own—because at the root of it, the switch from org-mode to obsidian is more of a larger movement in my life to rethink how I approach PIM (personal information management)

PIM can be a trap

I was (and still am, arguable) pretty fascinated with PIM. I spent a fair bit of time customizing how I used e-macs and org-mode to capture little & large details from my life. A lot of what drove this was how I wanted to be perceived publicly. I spent a lot of time on building my website to display the public parts of my PIM for others to see.

The internet makes living and loving your own life tough sometimes. I'm not saying anything new by pointing out that social media can induce FOMO, push people to share only the highlights of their lives, and compare themselves to others far too often. At the beginning of building my little wiki, I thought it would be different; but in some senses, it was the same 1. I was too concerned with displaying my projects, and constructing myself as a creative / maker.

The thing is - all that time could have been spent making things I'd been dreaming of making, and I could have either a) not built a website at all, or b) used an off the shelf solution (more on that later) and just get on with what I want to do with my life 2. That brings me to my next point:


Time tracking can be a trap

I used time tracking in org-mode for every project I was working on. My reasoning was:

  1. I could better estimate how long new projects took based on old projects
  2. I wanted to have pretty graphs showing where I spent my time
  3. I wanted a reminder of how sucked down the rabbit hole I was on certain projects.
  4. I wanted other people to know how I spent my time.

Over the last year I've fallen off the habit, and I think it's for the better. To address the above:

  1. Ish. Sure, I could maybe extrapolate time data from one project to be used in estimating how long a new project would take, but would that really work? Somehow, I doubt it.
  2. Pretty graphs are pretty. But, after collecting all that data, I still wasn't using any of it.
  3. Yeah, this is actually a good point. As I've gotten older I've realized I want to be more judicious with my time; working on things I actually enjoy; seeing how long certain projects took (especially onces I didn't really care for and were using as a means to an end) did serve as a good reminder.
  4. This falls into the above category - being too concerned with impressing people and constructing an identity.

I think I'll write more about this later, though.

Going "local-first"

I think at the end of the day, I needed to let go of some of the obsessions that came with building a "second brain". I never really thought of myself as an egotistical person 3, but something about my approach to PIM was starting to feel a bit obsessive 4 .

I was immediately drawn to Obsidian because of it's out of the box simplicity (compared to org-mode). Not only that, I was also drawn to having a new wiki that wasn't so tied up with a website. I feel that if I use this locally for a few months and find it really works for me, then I'll worry about it being a website later (and it'll be far easier being markdown than org-mode).

"You do you"

At the end of the day, I would group the above reflections into some sort of metawork on accepting myself for who I am, and not trying to be somebody I'm not. I think this has been a struggle for me throughout my life, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in larger ways.

What does this all have to do with using obsidian and not org mode? To be honest, I'm not really sure. I suppose that beginning a migration from one system to another has set me reflecting on why I do any of this. In many ways, the tools we use reflect the choices we make, which reflect who we are.



Further, there is a resurgence of personal websites (this is a good thing) — many of which are referred to as "digital gardens". Now, it may just sound like I'm being a shitty hipster saying "now that everyone is doing it and I'm no longer interested" — and while that can be true, I'm more just finding that (for myself) there was too much construction of identity there. It didn't feel very real.


Unless, what I want to do with my life is endlessly documenting half baked projects and blogging about blogging?


Although, to play devil's advocate with myself - why is running a personal website and tracking data about yourself more egotistical than using instagram? Maybe I feel that having to go through the effort to collect data about yourself, and the intentional act of making a website these days is almost counter-cultural. Whereas, just using instagram is to join in with the millions of other people using a closed system requires less thinking and work. So, why does doing the work to represent yourself in an independent, individual way feel egotistical?


I've seen other folks go into the world of "quantified self" and I wonder if they feel the same way.